I just got the sad news that GaragePunk.com will no longer be doing the Podcast Network, which puts up about a couple dozen different awesome Rock and Roll podcasts. Most of the individual podcasts will still be available on their own blogs or somewhere. Check them out here.
January 4, 2010
November 9, 2009
If you know anything at all about Fred Neil, you probably know that he wrote “Everybody’s Talkin'”, the song that became a hit for Harry Nilsson when it was featured in Midnight Cowboy in 1969. You probably don’t know that he was an influential folksinger in the early 1960’s (getting lost amid the shuffle in a place and time that produced numerous musical legends), and before that a session guitarist and professional songwriter in the storied Brill Building. He played guitar on Bobby Darin’s 1958 hit “Dream Lover” and wrote “Candy Man” for Roy Orbison (admittedly a rather weak entry as the B-side of the amazing “Crying” single). His voice could have fit well in Nashville, but his songs were pure Greenwich Village. He never became famous because he never sought the limelight, and eventually abandoned the music business to become an advocate for dolphins.
One of my favorite Neil tunes, lyrically speaking, is That’s the Bag I’m In, from the same 1966 self-titled album that contained “Everybody’s talkin'”. (By the way, that’s Canned Heat’s Al Wilson on harmonica.) I also love this cover by The Fabs, a garage band from Fullerton, California, included on the Back from the Grave Vol. 1 comp.
“They’ll probably drop the bomb the day my ship comes in.” I feel that way a lot these days, too. You could do worse than to have Chinese Yen, though.
June 21, 2009
Well, it’s Summer Solstice (and Father’s Day- call your Dad), and so I am pleased to present Blue Cheer’s cover of the Eddie Cochran classic, Summertime Blues. Blue Cheer were a San Francisco rock band, early acolytes of Hendrix’s Electric Church who named themselves after a type of acid. However, unlike Hendrix and cohorts Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, they were no virtuosos. Just a bunch of flipped-out freaks whose amps went to 11 and had a hankering to make the guitar go EEE-WOO-EEEE-WOOO-OWWW!!! Or, as the ever-astute listener Lester Bangs put it, “sub-sub-sub-sub-Hendrix guitar overdubs stumbled around each other so ineptly they verged on a truly bracing atonality.” These qualities often get Blue Cheer tagged as the first metal or punk band among those who care about such designations, and perhaps their eschewing of traditional musical chops in favor of sheer sonic force makes them one of the handful of hard rock bands its okay for a hipster to like (they merit inclusion in The Rock Snob’s Dictionary and are heard blaring from a cab stereo in Jim Jarmusch’s movie Night on Earth). All I know is, only in the year 1968 could such a piece of volcanic slop as “Summertime Blues” (from their wonderfully-titled debut album Vincebus Eruptum) beome a #11 Billboard hit.
June 7, 2009
Who, or what, was the Phantom? From the sound of his music, one would think a pure motorbilly madman, with jug of corn whiskey in his hand, a big iron on his hip, and a steady supply of methedrine stashed somewhere. Actually, he was a country singer from Mobile, Alabama, named Jerry Lott. So how did his cult 1960 single “Love Me“come about?
“I’d worked three months on the other side of the record”, he told Derek Glenister. “Somebody said, ‘what you gonna put on the flip-side’ I hadn’t even thought about it. Someone suggested I wrote something like Elvis ’cause he was just a little on the wane and everybody was beginning to turn against rock ‘n’ roll. They said, ‘See if you spark rock ‘n’ roll a little bit’… so that’s when I put all the fire and fury I could utter into it. I was satisfied with the first take, but everybody said, ‘let’s try it one more time’. I didn’t yell on the first take, but I yelled on the second, and blew one of the controls off the wall.”
“I’m telling ya”, Lott continued, “it was wild. The drummer lost one of his sticks, the piano player screamed and knocked his stool over, the guitar player’s glasses were hanging sideways over his eyes.”
That, of course, is how classic Rock and Roll songs are made. This was actually 1958. It took two years for the song to be released, by which time Rock and Roll was in a fallow period and Rockabilly had pretty much faded from the scene. Not that such a piece of insanity as “Love Me” could have topped the charts when Gene Vincent and Bill Haley were still superstars anyway. Lott decided to take his tapes to Hollywood and shop them around to . . . Pat Boone. Yeah, the guy whose name has become shorthand for the lily-white, watered-down untergang of Rock and Roll’s first wave was instrumental in releasing this single, and the creation of Lott’s alter ego as The Phantom.
“Love Me” was later covered in the 1980’s by Rockabilly enthusiasts The Cramps and The Blue Cats.
(Hat tip to the Tuesday Night Rock and Roll Dance Party for playing this one on the Lux Interior/Cramps tribute episode a few months ago.)
June 5, 2009
The boys at Battleship Pretension have been promoting this documentary about cult R&B icon Andre Williams for a while, so I finally looked at a preview. I’m definitely intrigued. I really dig Williams’ dirty, brassy rocker “Jailbait”. Wish I had an Mp3 so I could put it up here.
“Yes I use drugs on occasion.” Good on ya, Andre.
*After writing it, I realized what a Utahn phrase “pretty sweet” it. First of all, all the other superlatives, like “awesome” I feel I overuse (for some reason I’ve never been able to get on board with “rad”), and second, why the hell not embrace the local culture for once? Anyway, the movie looks bittersweet if anything.
May 29, 2009
I first posted this over at GaragePunk.com, so I figured why not put it here too:
It is typical of Marxism to view art and culture as a epiphenomena (“superstructure” I believe is the correct jargon) of economics. The first Marxist art critic was Marx himself, writing in “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy”:
. . . is Achilles possible side by side with powder and lead? Or is the Iliad at all compatible with the printing press and the steam press? Does not singing and reciting and the muses necessarily go out of existence with the appearance of the printer’s bar, and do not, therefore, disappear the prerequisites of epic poetry?
I find it somewhat strange that the Iliad should not be compatible with the invention that made it available to millions for the first time, but the Homeric epic was originally the creature of an oral culture, so something is inevitably lost in translation. At any rate, though I reject economic determinism as a species of scientism, there is something to be said for looking at economic relations vis-a-vis the art forms associated with them, or looking at the medium as well as the message.
So what does this have to do with Rock and Roll. Well, Camille Paglia has written about it, connecting Rock with Romanticism, yet without that movement’s typically reactionary take on technology. She sees it (as a subspecies of pop music generally) as having a kind of therapeutic function in industrial capitalism:
Nature’s clock ticks behind technology’s facade. Try as we will to perfect society’s gleaming latticework of metal and microfiber, we are hostage to our stubborn bodies, which still pulse to primeval rhythms.
Modern culture has been obsessed with speed since the invention of the steam-powered locomotive in the early 19th century. Our sense of space has progressively contracted and collapsed because of our ability to cross huge distances with magical effortlessness. Many chronic stress-related medical complaints are certainly aggravated by this headlong pace, which has disrupted our physical perception of time.
My theory is that the massive rise of rhythmically intense pop music over the past 70 years is partly due to our urgent need to reset our inner clocks to match this new world. Similarly, the modern pornography industry serves an important function in reorienting our high tech consciousness toward our baseline identity in the fleshly and the organic. Love poets in the lascivious carpe diem tradition have always known time is transient, written in the human body, which blooms only to decay.
-Camille Paglia, “Rock Around the Clock”, Forbes 11/30/98
Paglia celebrates Rock and other pop-culture phenomena. But where she sees “an important function” a Marxist would likely see incorporation into an insidious system (“the rhythm of the iron system” in Adorno’s words) and a conservative, it almost goes without saying, sees decadence and degeneration. Rock and Roll is both primitive and capitalistic (by this I mean a market phenomenon, which is not necessarily the same thing as what we often mean by “Capitalism”), which is why old-school (pre-1960’s) Marxists and conservatives have united in abhorring it. Defenders of State Capitalism (to say nothing of the creators of the music themselves) have not necessarily seen it that way. Roger Kimball, co-founder of the Neoconservative cultural magazine The New Criterion , updating the late Allan Bloom’s critique, writes ““rock music is a potent weapon in the arsenal of emotional anarchy.” As an anarchist, and a despiser of neoconservative politics more generally, I can think of no higher praise. And economist Tyler Cowen’s In Praise of Commercial Culture looks at the anti-authoritarianism that inherently makes it suspect in the eyes of the state (not that we really need any intellectuals to point this out for us):
Just as Savonarola was one of the most perceptive viewers of Florentine art, so were the Soviet apparatchiks among the most perceptive analysts of rock. They understood that rock was pro-capitalist, pro-individualist, consumerist, and opposed to socialism and state control.
Of course anybody is free to like whatever music they happen to like, but I think that Rock and Roll is the most natural aesthetic corollary to libertarianism and anarchism.
May 28, 2009
This is a demo recording of Buddy Holly and drummer Jerry Allison performing Bo Diddley’s song “Mona”. It was recorded in a small studio in Clovis, New Mexico, where Roy Orbison (who is also from West Texas) also recorded. (I have had the pleasure of seeing this studio when I worked briefly in the small southern New Mexico town of Clovis.) It’s a bit rough yes, but it’s a great version with acoustic guitar. It’s a pity this did not become a single. The slow parts are intriguing, showing what the Bo Diddley beat could become if it were slowed down.
May 10, 2009
I’ve decided this feature needs to rock a lot more, so today’s song is a massive stomper: The Train Kept A Rollin’, by Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages. This one goes out to by buddies at Garage Punk.com! Most people know this rock standard, which was written and originally recorded by R&B bandleader Tiny Bradshaw in 1951, translated into Rock and Roll by Johnny Burnette, and then made an even bigger hit by the Yardbirds in the 60’s. The Wikipedia page for the song lists numerous versions, including those by Alex Chilton, Hanoi Rocks, and Motörhead, but not this one. That’s too bad, because it’s probably the best after the Yardbirds and Johnny Burnette.
Screaming Lord Sutch was a British theatrical horror-rocker in the tradition of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Alice Cooper. His best material was produced in the early 1960’s, in the period before the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. It is a notoriously barren musical period for rock (though this fact is exaggerated, since it ignores surf music for one, and a ton of awesome R&B and Soul produced in those years), and music in England was particularly shallow. So a Screaming Lord Sutch show had all the shock effect that the Sex Pistols would have about a decade and a half later. As Richie Unterberger’s Unkown Legends of Rock and Roll describes it, “Wind howls, rain swirls, and a coffin slowly creaks open. An agonizingly elongated, Phantom of the Opera scream shakes the stylus for a good 15 seconds. Screaming Lord Sutch, the prince of horror-rock, is most definitely in town.” Madness must love company, because Sutch’s early material was produced by the legendary eccentric Joe Meek. Axemen Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck also apprenticed in his band (also future Deep Purple guitarist Richie Blackmore), which is probably where they first played this song, though I’m not sure who in particular is playing on this track.♦ The slashing solo sounds like Page to me, but it’s anybody’s guess. At any rate, Sutch might have remained a footnote in the history of British Rock if not for the enthusiasm of like-minded American bands like The Cramps. Sutch’s tune “Jack the Ripper” has become something of a garage-rock standard. In 1970 Sutch reunited with Page and Beck (now huge stars), as well as Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham and Hendrix’s bassist Noel Redding, for Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends. Although it has been named more than once as one of the worst rock albums ever, what I have heard of it sounds alright.
Perhaps as a result of getting banned from so many venues, or perhaps conceived as a publicity stunt, Sutch decided to enter politics, running for Parliament in 1963 on the National Teenage Party ticket. Later he became famous as the representative of the Monster Raving Loony Party. While that party was a sort of proto-Green Party, Sutch’s initial campaign was quite libertarian, whose platform “advocated lowering the voting age to 18, the introduction of commercial radio [rock could never thrive on the BBC], and the abolition of the 11-plus (a British school examination that separated pupils into certain courses of study at an early age).” Sutch’s campaign slogan is “Vote for insanity! You know it makes sense.” Was it George Orwell or Thomas Szasz who said that insanity was the only sane reaction to an insane society?
The Screaming Lord Sutch story has an unhappy ending. He hanged himself in 1999.
♦My version of the song comes from a compilation of British “freakbeat” bands called That Driving Beat which doesn’t include personnel info, but I have now heard through the grapevine that the guitarist in question is in fact Blackmore.